Thursday, April 05, 2018

Making Assad Great Again?

President Trump said America will withdraw our troops from Syria while the Saudis object to such a decision that will hand Syria to Iran.

This is troubling to me given the war Iran wages on America and our allies, but it is necessary to debate:

President Donald Trump is telling advisers he wants an early exit of U.S. troops from Syria, two senior administration officials said on Friday, a stance that may put him at odds with many top U.S. officials.

Trump is spending Easter weekend at his Palm Beach, Florida, estate. During a speech in Richfield, Ohio on Thursday, he revealed his desire to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria and turn over security to regional countries.

He said that based on allied victories against Islamic State militants, "We'll be coming out of Syria, like, very soon."

Our primary Arab ally is uncomfortable with that declaration:

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants the U.S. military to maintain a presence in Syria, despite President Donald Trump’s declaration that American forces will be pulled from the war-torn country in the near future.

“We believe American troops should stay for at least the mid-term, if not the long-term,” he told TIME Thursday in a wide-ranging interview.

If we can get others to do 90% of what our small troop contingent there does, I'm fine with pulling out the bulk of troops (we never really count special forces as being troops abroad).

But can we get allies and contractors (aka mercenaries) to carry out the functions our troops inside Syria carry out?

Remember that the Obama administration plan to rely on anybody but the American military to hold the gains in Iraq didn't work out.

Because abandoning Syria to Iran and abandoning Syrian Arabs and Syrian Kurds who trusted us enough to fight our common ISIL enemies isn't a moral or wise thing for our reputation as a reliable ally to do.

Yet as I wrote back in January, we do as a nation have to make a decision about what we want in Syria:

The Obama administration ignored the logical consequences of saying Assad had to step down by waging a parallel war as a de facto ally of Assad against the common enemy of ISIL that put off enforcing that declaration. The defeat of the ISIL caliphate has exposed the wide gap between the stated preference for Assad to leave and the focus of military action on ISIL only. So what do we do now?

And we must do that rather than just let our presence drift along on autopilot until a Black Hawk Down moment--perhaps even against our Turkish NATO ally rather than Iranians, Syrians, Hezbollah, or Russians--makes us decide.

I don't think Trump will literally "soon" order our troops out of Syria, despite his clearly expressed desire to do so:

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he wanted to "get out" of Syria and promised decisions soon, even as his advisers warned of the hard work ahead to defeat Islamic State and stabilize areas recaptured from the militant group.

But I do think that he clearly wants options on how to do that soon without undermining what we have achieved and avoiding doing harm to our nation and our allies.

Or I hope so, anyway.  I do worry.

UPDATE: Regardless of the ultimate decision, for now there is no change:

The U.S. military policy toward fighting Islamic State militants in Syria remains the same following discussions with President Donald Trump this week and the military has not been given a timeline for withdrawing troops, the Pentagon said on Thursday.

The president clearly wants out. The military wants to win first, so it doesn't have to win again (see Iraq War 2.0 and see how Afghanistan was heading until we reinvigorated our effort). Hopefully there is room for both objectives.

UPDATE: We continue to visibly bolster the Kurds west of the Euphrates River in the north near Turkey.